For many of us when we first start sewing, we are told to start with a simple fabric like a cotton or at most a linen because they are the easiest fabrics to work with.
So for the beginners among us, sewing with stretch seems a bit scary and daunting, but it really doesn’t have to be. Sewing with a stretch, knit or jersey fabric doesn’t have to be scary at all; it’s pretty easy but just different to sewing with a woven fabric like cotton.
Once you have figured out a few rules, sewing with jersey may become your favourite thing.
What Needles are Best For Jersey Fabric?
The most important thing about sewing with jersey is to use a Ballpoint Needle or a Stretch Needle. This is because they have a rounded tip, so rather than piercing through the fabric and creating a hole, it pushes the fibres to one side.
Ball point needles for sewing with jersey fabric
Do I Need a Special Thread for Sewing Jersey?
You don’t need a special thread for sewing with jersey if you are using a ball point needle which is specially designed to sew knit fabrics. However, a recently available stretch thread means you don’t have to use a zig-zag stitch: it’s called Maraflex and is available in our Battersea Shop.
The Best Stitch for Jersey Fabric
Now, this is the other important thing about sewing with jersey: you need to use a zig-zag stitch, as this allows the stitching to move with the stretch of the fabric and avoids you popping a seam.
For the best results and a tight stitch, you will need to have a small zig-zag stitch, which may take a bit of practice to make it perfect. One top tip for when you do your practice is to use two layers of fabric.
For the best results use from 1.5mm to 2.5mm for the stitch length and a width from 2.5mm to 5mm for the zig-zag if you are using a light or medium weight knit like most of our jersey fabrics.
Most machines also have a variety of zig-zag stitches so it would be a good idea to consult your manual to ensure you are getting the best out of the machine.
Another top tip: once you have got the stitch looking good, make a note on your pattern of the stitch details so that when you come to use it again you don’t have to spend quite so much time fiddling around.
Image Credit: Tilly and The Buttons
What Foot to use when Sewing with Jersey
Depending on your machine, you may need a new machine foot so you can use a zig-zag stitch. This is because some standard feet don’t have a wide enough gap for the needle to move from side to side. You will be able to tell quickly if the foot on your machine will do this, just by looking at it. A walking foot or dual feed foot is recommended for sewing with jersey fabric.
How to Check The Stretch of Jersey Fabric
This is a fairly new technique in the sewing community and it’s a handy thing to know if you are looking at a stretch fabric but don’t know the composition (the percentage of elastane).
It gives you an idea of the amount of stretch within the fabric, so you will know if the fabric works with your pattern. It’s obviously not entirely accurate but it’s a good indicator. For example the knicker or underwear pattern below from Megan Nielsen needs a fabric with 20% stretch, so if you take a snippet of say 9cm and it stretches to 11cm then the fabric has roughly 20% stretch. Our blog on choosing the correct stretch fabric has more detail on how to measure fabric stretch.
Many of the patterns will have an illustration on the envelope, so you can quickly test the fabric before buying. (Although, if you are buying from our website the information will be in the product description.)
Stitching with Jersey
When actually sewing the jersey fabric there are some important things to bear in mind- such as when stitching, try not to stretch one layer more than the other as this will make the seam wonky.
But this is not the case when you are attaching ribbing to either the neckline, cuffs or waist, because you want the edging to be tighter than the rest of the garment so here you want to stretch it evenly to create an equal finish.
To do this you need to mark both the ribbing and the neckline at 4 equally spaced points. You can do this by folding the ribbing in half, popping a pin in at the fold and then folding it again and pinning the quarters. Do the same on the neckline by folding it in the same way, once you have matched these points the stretch will be equally distributed.
Image Credit: Tilly and The Buttons
Sewing Patterns Perfect for Jersey
Now hear us out on this one, knickers are a great beginner project for sewing with jersey. You don’t need a vast amount of fabric and everyone needs a few more pairs of knickers. This pattern from Megan Nielsen is also free, making it an even better introduction to sewing with stretch. It teaches you nearly everything you need to know about sewing with jersey too. And once you have tried it, you will be ready to move on to a matching t-shirt. In fact, one member of Team FG made a set and has now made them for all her friends, it is that easy.
Now you have mastered a pair of knickers, it is time to move onto a simple t-shirt. This True Bias t-shirt even comes with a sew-along blog for extra support with handy instructions for both an overlocker and a domestic sewing machine. For extra value within the pattern, you can make both a t-shirt and a dress. If you are feeling a bit braver you can use jersey ribbing around the neckline and cuffs too.
One of the great things about sewing with jersey is that it’s really quick, so if you decide you need a new top the night before a party, with this pattern you can whip one up in no time. It’s just 4 pieces; the only thing is, it controversially doesn’t use a zig-zag stitch; one member of Team FG was a bit nervous about that but has since made two and is very happy with them. The added bonus is with no sleeve this is a really simple construction, so again a great beginner pattern.
We at Fabrics Galore are big fans of Tilly and the Buttons, in particular the Billie Sweatshirt - many of us have them for the cooler winter months. This pattern is great because of the varied options, but it has a very simple, quick construction and will soon become a favourite for you too. This is a great one for a confident beginner jersey sewer because you will learn how to add sleeves, as well as the ribbing around the neck and wrists.
You may need to use a slightly longer zig-zag stitch for this because you are using a thicker sweatshirt fabric rather than a jersey.
Your Turn to Try Sewing with Jersey
We hope that makes you more confident to try sewing with jersey fabric, but if we haven’t covered something, and you want more advice send us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org and we can answer all your sewing with jersey-related questions! Don't forget we have a fantastic collection of jersey fabric including plain jersey, floral jersey, animal print, Breton stripes, organic jersey and many more....